hem·​lock | \ ˈhem-ˌläk How to pronounce hemlock (audio) \

Definition of hemlock

1a : any of several poisonous herbs (such as a poison hemlock or a water hemlock) of the carrot family having finely cut leaves and small white flowers
b : a drug or lethal drink prepared from the poison hemlock
2 : any of a genus (Tsuga) of evergreen coniferous trees of the pine family also : the soft light splintery wood of a hemlock

Examples of hemlock in a Sentence

Socrates died after drinking hemlock.
Recent Examples on the Web In 2012, Alison Orr-Andrawes donated 85 acres of land in Falls Village to the Wilderness Trust, protecting a mix of forest habitats including a mountain stream, rocky outcrops, quiet glades and majestic oak and hemlock stands. Stephen Underwood, Hartford Courant, 30 July 2022 The soil is rocky and thin, and our house is surrounded by forests of maple, beech, birch, and hemlock that shade out the light. Christopher Ketcham, Outside Online, 20 May 2020 Inside, the cottage has pine floors and hemlock ceilings; the countertops are zinc to match his sailboat. WSJ, 11 Aug. 2022 Johnson sought creative refuge in this small wooden cabin set in a hemlock grove. Rachel Silva, ELLE Decor, 20 July 2022 Hanging from his rope 60 feet above, Roppolo says the nest at Reforestation Camp is freshened with white cedar and hemlock boughs. Paul A. Smith, Journal Sentinel, 27 June 2022 Nearly 2 million people visit the Tongass every year, coming from all over the world to marvel at the vast swaths of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and red and yellow cedar, some towering as tall as 200 feet. Anchorage Daily News, 29 Apr. 2022 Olympic National Park has a rugged and remote Pacific coastline, temperate rainforest, old-growth forests of spruce, hemlock and cedar, wildflower meadows, towering peaks, herds of elk and massive glaciers. Fox News, 29 June 2022 Here is a link with pictures of hemlock and the water hemlock for your review. oregonlive, 29 May 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hemlock.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of hemlock

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for hemlock

Middle English hemelok, humlok, homloke, going back to Old English hymlic, hemlic, hymblicae (in the Épinal Glossary for Latin cicūta "hemlock"), of uncertain origin

Note: The application of a word for the toxic plant Conium maculatum to a conifer began in North America in the eighteenth century, there being a nomenclatural gap, as conifers of the genus Tsuga are not native to Europe. The basis for the name is unclear. According to The Century Dictionary (1889), under the entry hemlock-spruce, the tree was "so called from the resemblance of its branches in tenuity and position to the leaves of the common hemlock, Conium maculatum." Wikipedia states (as of 12/7/21) that "the common name hemlock is derived from a perceived similarity in the smell of its crushed foliage to that of the unrelated plant poison hemlock." — The word hemlock, going back to the earliest Old English glossaries, is without congeners in other Germanic languages. It appears to be attested as both a strong masculine and weak feminine noun. In An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press, 2008, pp. 105-08), A. Liberman surveys earlier unsatisfying attempts at an etymology and presents his own hypothesis. He sees a connection with Old High German hemera, glossing the toxic plant names veratrum (Veratrum album L.) and elleborus (Helleborus niger L.). As a plant name, this word has long been compared with Old Russian/Russian Church Slavic čemerŭ "a poisonous plant of the genus Veratrum" (with related forms elsewhere in Slavic) and Lithuanian kemeraĩ (plural) "the plant Eupatorium cannabinum." Liberman, following in part O.N. Trubačev, et al., Ètimologičeskij slovarʼ slavjanskix jazykov: praslavjanskij leksičeskij fond (Vypusk 4, pp. 52-53), segments Slavic *čemerŭ into dialectal Indo-European *kem- and a suffix *-er-, and takes *kem- as the formative element behind hym-/hem- in the hemlock word. The second element -lic- he takes as a suffix of plant names comparable with -ling in Old High German skeriling "hemlock" and -lic in Old English cerlic "wild mustard (Brassica kaber), charlock." In regard to the identity of *kem-, Liberman points to a group of Slavic words cited by Trubačev that show extended senses, as Bulgarian čemer "misfortune, poison, the plant Veratrum," Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian čȅmēr "poison, grief, gall," Slovene čemér "poison, pus in a wound, something bitter," Polish dialectal czemier "Veratrum, pain in a horse's stomach," Russian regional čemer "disease, headache, stomach pain sometimes accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting" (Dalʼ), Russian čemeríca "a plant of the genus Veratrum" (replacing Old Russian čemerŭ). Liberman's hypothesis is then that the base *kem- means approximately "poison, sickness, injury," and *kemer- as a plant name is no more than a derivative from this base, with a suffix *-er- of unspecified ancestry. The difficulty here, however, is that Baltic and Germanic only have the plant name, and neither show the profusion of meanings evidenced in Slavic. It would be more economical to regard the plant name as original in Slavic—the oldest form, in East Slavic, has only this meaning—and the other meanings as derivative ("poisonous plant" > "poison" > "sickness, misfortune, etc."). Liberman attempts to find other evidence of *kem- in Germanic (Old High German hamm "infirm," Middle High German hem "rebellious, malicious," hamen, hemmen "to slow down, retard"), though these and others cited look too semantically and phonetically disparate to be credible. In regard to dialectal Indo-European *kemer-, G. Kroonen cites as well Greek kámaros, kámmaros "name of a poisonous plant, perhaps of the genus Aconitum," and suggests that the entire set of words in Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and Greek reflect borrowing of the name of a toxic plant from a non-Indo-European substrate language (see Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, Brill, 2013, p. 219). Though it is not without question that there is some relation between this etymon and Old English hymblicae, etc, the possibility seems somewhat remote.

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The first known use of hemlock was before the 12th century

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Last Updated

29 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Hemlock.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hemlock. Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

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More Definitions for hemlock


hem·​lock | \ ˈhem-ˌläk How to pronounce hemlock (audio) \

Kids Definition of hemlock

1 : an evergreen tree related to the pine
2 : a poisonous plant with small white flowers and leaves divided into many parts


hem·​lock | \ ˈhem-ˌläk How to pronounce hemlock (audio) \

Medical Definition of hemlock

1a : any of several poisonous herbs (as a poison hemlock or a water hemlock) of the carrot family (Umbelliferae) having finely cut leaves and small white flowers
2 : a drug or lethal drink prepared from the poison hemlock — compare coniine

More from Merriam-Webster on hemlock

Nglish: Translation of hemlock for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about hemlock


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